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tec sanchez-tolosa
tec sanchez-tolosa IT WAS probably the most disheveled I've been in a public place.

Imagine: direct sunlight at 3 PM (every dermatologist's nightmare), ambient temperature in the mid-30's C, sweat, humidity and human bodies in close proximity.

No, it was not a Nazi concentration camp. Not a mad dash for relief goods post-disaster.

It was the line for my specified precinct in Barangay San Jose, San Fernando, Pampanga on May 10, 2010—the day of the first automated national and local elections in the country.

As early as 8:30 AM I knew that the lines were long and that the waiting was going to be tedious. Members of my family and household, who vote in Manila, saw that the problem lay mainly in the lack of PCOS units. Several precincts were clustered and were being served by only one machine, explaning the buildup of people. I was monitoring email, text, chat and Facebook to see how easy or how difficult it was to vote.

Two to three hours from start to finish—that's what many friends said. News reports mentioned entire crowds who fell out of line, disillusioned and dismayed with the process.

I, who alone had retained my registration in San Fernando, was faced with the question, "Malaus ku pa? Paipagal kung muli Pampanga for I don't know what?"

A friend with whom I was chatting told me, "Ali na ka. Masayang mu ing pagal mu. E mu man balu nung mabilang ya ing boto mu. Balu mu naman Pilipinas."

It was so tempting to let go of the chance to vote. Wapin naman, obat papagkasakitan ku ing sarili ku? Mag-aircon na ku mung patingapun at manalbe TV. O bakit naman kasi pati pamagboto pakasakit da pamu keng bansang ini? Ala nang malyari talaga keni. Gripe, gripe . . . , et cetera, et cetera . . . , blah blah blah.

It was so easy to fall prey to the demons that pestered our minds; so alluring to confine ourselves to the self-centered comforts we had grown so accustomed to. It felt almost logical to surrender to the seeming hopelessness of our situation, of our country and of our people, and to justify our inaction with our perceptions of defeat in all its definitions.

I was drawn and enticed, but I refused to give in.

And so it was, na king kapali-palian na ning aldo, mag-aala una ning gatpanapun, tinulak ku papunta Pampanga. The ride was smooth and the roads clear. The weather . . . well, let's not talk about that. Mapali talaga. It's a given in this side of the world, at this time. I arrived in Pampanga in a little less than an hour and picked up my cousins from Ponduan. We then proceeded to the elementary school in San Jose Panlumacan, where we were to vote all together. The road going there was strewn with the usual election day sights: streamers, sample ballots and trash everywhere.

When we got there . . . the lines!

Well, it was more a sea of people than actual lines. There were many who were waiting for their turn, some who were checking their precinct assignments, verifying if they were on the list. The classrooms were small and could not accommodate the waiting throng, so most everyone had to stay out in the sun.

Only ten voters at a time were called in to sign, vote and then affix their thumbmarks. The ones waiting to vote had to endure the sweltering heat, perspiring like mad. Marakal-rakal ing tinulung pawas kasi mapali, inia masanting la benta ring magtindan danum ampong sopdrinks. Ala nang mekaisip pa nung malagu o makapolbu la. The dust that swirled around us was powder enough. Super wa-poise, if you ask me.

As expected, there were some who fell out of line and went home. There were a handful who didn't fall in line at all—sisimple la, manintun kakilala at sisingit. I was surprised—alright, a bit disappointed—na keilian da la mu at pigsisting mataimik. Kapampangans being a friendly and tolerant bunch—to their purokmates, especially—these individuals were actually let off the hook. There was one person though who heckled them, probably out of sheer desperation from the situation.

One thing I noticed was that Pinoys, when held in line, do not care much for polite distance. This is true, whether the line is in a voting precinct, a pay phone, a cashier in a department store, or for communion. They have a tendency to stand close together, alus pakat-pakat, na potang dumayu ka balamu ana ka kasupladuan a tau. Because of the long wait, it was inevitable to find oneself interacting with those beside, behind and in front of you. There were even some who were kind enough to buy bottles of water and offer them to others who needed a drink. Others shared their umbrella shade, while others shared their air. Detang mamepe reng amanuan ku—pikipepe ra na la naman deng kasiping da.

Talk, naturally, centered on the present candidates—why vote for this and that contender and similar topics. Dakal la reng magbida-bida. The older members in the line, who were able to recall past elections, waxed sentimental about how it was before—the voting process, politics and government in general.

In a matter of one hour, we moved maybe five feet—closer to the shade of a medium sized tree. And then, just a short distance away, the door to the voting precinct where the ballots were waiting. (This second part actually took another hour and fifteen minutes.) Every time ten persons were called in, the voters cheered loudly and happily. Balamu e la makabilad, antimong e la tatagaktak pawas king pali ning aldo. Give it to the Pinoys – to always have a ready smile even in the most adverse of circumstances. Having come closer, the remaining segments of the wait became more tolerable. They were small, heavily-anticipated steps toward our chance.

For what, the cynics would ask?

For change, for new beginnings, for renewed chances, I dare answer them.

It was all about hope.

It IS all about hope.

Finally, I found myself standing before the election officer—giving my name, my precinct and registration number. I signed beside my name and waited for my ballot. It may have been just another election, it may actually mean nothing to others—but I felt good to be part of history. It was good to know that someday, when automated elections will be the normal way of things, we can say—God willing—to our grandchildren, "Uy, iniang minuna rong gamitan den, atiu kami. Menimawas at menikal keng manenaya para mu makapagbotu."

And then we will recall with fondness the ancient days of manila paper tacked on the blackboards and Pentel pens almost running out of ink, of teachers calling out numbers of votes, of canvassers tallying the count, of late nights spent with ballot boxes safeguarded with life and honor. Ah, the ole days, we would say . . . .

When the election chairman called out to me and handed me the ballot, I had a moment of awe to spend—that opportunity you give yourself when you look at a new thing for the first time. Then I sat down and encircled my choices. I had done this shading thing a hundred times before: in entrance exams, qualifying tests, government boards—but this time was special. It was as if I wanted every single ellipse to be perfect.

Eventually I fed my ballot into the machine, and waited with bated breath as it was processed and validated.

"Congratulations!," it said, and the wait was well worth it. Never mind that it took so long. The important thing was that I got to vote; I had exercised my sovereign right of choice.

I realized that I had something in common with all those people around me, and the millions of Filipinos all over the country who went out to vote: we who willed ourselves to endure the odds, the petty inconveniences, and on a more profound level the pain of hoping against hope; we who keep believing that something worthwhile will come out of the exercise, even when naysayers say otherwise, even when past experience has shown the contrary.

It was all about hope.

For what else do we have to bequeath to our children and the coming generations but hope?

From hope shall come all our efforts, our endeavors and labors—to make things better, in each and every small way; to keep trying even when the obstacles seem insurmountable, to keep believing in ourselves and in the Philippines.

Hope is good.

Yesterday I placed—once again—my hope on the Filipino and the country I call home. I pray that in time, our choices would prove to be right.

Mabuhay ang Pinoy!

[About the author. Tec Sanchez-Tolosa, MD is a full-blooded Kapampangan and a mother of three. A member of Pinoypoets since 2006, she is the author of the Kapampangan poetry collection "Ing Bie Kung Delanan, Ing Bie Kung Balikan (2006)." Some of her poems have been published in emanilapoetry and the online poetry journal Makata. While enrolled in her M.A. Creative Writing program, she was included in the anthology Sleepless in Manila. Tec is also a seasoned medical writer, with printed works in health publications and major dailies. She worked briefly with the ABS-CBN Foundation as a scriptwriter/researcher in the early stages of Sine'skwela. Raised in Manila and educated in St. Theresa's College during her formative years, she is a product of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology. She later became a Doctor of Medicine and trained in diseases of the skin, hair and nails. She is now a Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) Board-certified Dermatology specialist with an active practice in San Fernando, Pampanga and Quezon City.]

-Posted: 10:22 AM 5/13/10 | More of this author on eK!